It’s already the end of April and it’s already time for the 2nd round of 7 in this year’s British GT season. The first notches in the scoring sticks have already been made after the series’ trip to Oulton on the Easter weekend, but now the first 2 hour race of the year is knocking and the unique Rockingham Motor Speedway will play host to the GT grid.
Rockingham’s 1.94 mile “roval” layout offers a vast contrast to the teams. The circuit is the UK’s only Indycar/NASCAR style oval, and the course this weekend uses the fearsome Turn 1 banked corner, which will be one of the fastest, and widest of the season. The remainder of the lap takes place on the twisting and narrow infield section with passing opportunities offered at the Deene and Tarzan hairpins to spice up proceedings for the brave drivers.
This time last year it was advantage Aston as TF Sport & Beechdean capitalised on penalties on their rivals to take wins in GT3 and GT4 respectively. This year, Barwell are the GT3 series leaders as the Lamborghini of Minshaw and Keen had almost as perfect a raceday as you could wish, taking both race victories at Oulton. Lanan Racing’s Race 2 victory puts them ahead in the GT4 early standings ahead of Oulton race 1 surprise victors track-club.
Any hopes of a race victory repeat for Barwell and Lanan will be dented by the pit stop penalties applying after their recent successes. 20 seconds of additional time will be added to the #33 Lamborghini and the #51 Ginetta, meaning that a repeat of the disappearing act performed by Minshaw and Keen at Oulton Park will need to happen for any race wins to occur, although of course, after last year’s race where there were some considerable periods of safety car involvement, the cars with the penalties can make up time in large chunks.
TF Sport will want to build on the momentum they have carried into and indeed out of the latest meeting of the Blancpain GT Series at Monza, where Aston’s Scottish hot shot Jonny Adam helped propel their car to a class victory. With 3 podium finishes over the course of the weekend at Oulton, the pressure was only slightly reduced from the reigning champions, who will hope that their 15 second penalty will have less of a damaging effect on their race chances.
And by vast contrast, Team Parker Racing will probably want to kick their season into full motion this time round with the home race for Bentley in Cheshire being something of a tough encounter. The Bentley, which is revered by fans, was sadly a bit out of sorts in the wet and all 4 drivers struggled to get the immense car to stick properly to the slippery asphalt, leaving their rivals in a fine position to capitalise. A return to form at Rockingham (where luck last year was against the #31 Parfitt/Morris car) would be welcome, although a 5 place grid penalty will apply to the #7 car of Loggie/McLeod after the race ending incident in race 2.
The Oulton penalty party didn’t end with the GT3 cars. The #100 Garage 59 McLaren of Mitchell/Haggerty was within touching distance of victory in race 2 at Oulton, only for the pit stop timekeepers to slap them with a post finish penalty for failing to maintain the regulation stop time. 30 seconds seemed harsh to the team after an infringement of less than 2 seconds. They will seek to make amends here too after electrical issues plagued the baby McLaren at Rockingham in 2016. Without any penalty to apply in pitstops the car is in prime position to take a strong finish.
The consistency of the Ginetta G55 over the Oulton weekend was as strong as ever with a win for Lanan Racing and youngsters David Pittard and Alex Reed, and podiums for #55 HHC Motorsport and #501 Optimum. Century Motorsport will want to get in the mix this time round, after Mike Simpson’s pole position in the #111 car unfortunately was tainted by mid race contact with a couple of other cars causing damage enough to blunt race win hopes. Last year the same team saw a disqualification post-race ruin what would have been a fine victory. Like Garage 59, there are amends to be made at Rockingham in 2017.
What we haven’t yet seen is how the Porsche of Team Parker Racing will perform on this circuit. Scott Malvern’s aggressive driving saw him penalised at the last round, but his determination to push on with the full spec Clubsport GT4 was a statement of intent after the 2016 season rather petered out for him and Nick Jones. The small and lightweight Porsche may prove to be a capable tool on the twisty infield at Rockingham, and Malvern may take advantage of appearing gaps.
If we cast our minds back 12 months we will recall that the “banhammer” fell hard at Rockingham’s hopefuls last year, and in 2015, an incident involving the Von Ryan McLarens also saw driver punishments fall hard. In 2016’s race Adam Carroll was prevented from a race winning charge by a penalty for passing under yellows, and Anna Walewska and Nathan Freke suffered their post-race penalty to remove a hard earned win for similar infringements. The narrow infield is notable for attracting incident and we can expect the race director’s patience to be tested once more here, although we hope that no serious incidents take place for the drivers.
There’s one other major factor which could affect this weekend’s race. This will be the first time that the British GT championship implements the “hour rule” which means that Bronze graded drivers (or the slower of two Silvers) will be required to complete a minimum 60 minutes of this weekend’s race, which means that there is a smaller amount of time left for the Pro drivers to make a mark on the race. There are some very consistent bronze drivers out there, and by the time the pit window opens there will be impetus for the Pro drivers to capitalise on the strength of the starting pace of their team mates. There will be less reliance on the Pro driver to do the lion’s share, and this will mean the Bronze drivers will have to improve their paces to be in with a shout of a good finish.
To add further spice, we have the traditionally unpredictable and unwelcome thing that is the British spring weather. At the time of publishing, it is unseasonably cold, and slightly damp and windy too. If the weather continues to remain unsettled, it may once again be to the advantage of the Barwell #33 car, whose drivers are well versed in low-grip control. They may be the only ones hoping for rain this weekend…
Rockingham Motor Speedway makes many people think of the similarly named Rockingham Speedway in the USA, but spectators will be treated to a rarity at this oval – a view of the entire circuit from the track’s massive grandstand complex. It certainly makes all the difference being able to see all the action in one view!
Alas, we are still missing the EborGT Maserati from the entry sheets and the garage. The team are still looking for capable racing drivers to fill the seat of the Italian machine, and the paddock is regrettably quiet without the Yorkshire based team, who are a friendly and cheerful bunch when it comes to racing.
The incredible first corner was the scene of confusion and drama last year when the GT4 McLaren paused just off the banking with electrical issues. Out came the safety car only for the machine to fire up and get back to the pits. With this being one of the fastest corners of the year, we hope there will be no sudden stoppages – brace yourselves for chaos if there is…